If people are fed up with their government, disappointed, angry and
disgusted about what it is doing to them, what are their alternatives?
That’s a question addressed by Dr. Robert Higgs in the summer 1999
issue of The Independent Review, a quarterly publication of The
Independent Institute, a collection of scholars who strive to shed light
on the underlying significance of critical public issues.
In an essay entitled “Escaping Leviathan?” Higgs uses the terminology
of Albert Hirschman to say that “people who are fed up with government
have two options: exit and voice.” That is to say, they can complain,
petition, lobby and vote for representatives who promise to get the
government (Leviathan) off their backs, or they can simply try to find a
way to escape.
Higgs has no confidence in the vote as a vehicle of protest. He
writes, “Scholars have been slow to appreciate that elections are, and
always have been, largely a sham — a mere ceremony intended to make
people believe they have some control over their fate even as they are
mercilessly bullied, bamboozled and fleeced by their rulers.”
While Higgs doesn’t believe ballot-box “voices” will tame Leviathan,
he also does not agree with those who believe that governments will have
to soften, that is to say, lower taxes, remove regulations and privatize
services in order to be competitive with other nations in a burgeoning
world marketplace. Nor does he agree that there are effective routes of
escape from confiscatory government by trading with electronic money,
setting up parallel (black market) economies, and using creative
high-tech devices that bypass oppressive laws and taxes.
According to Higgs, there is no serious threat to Leviathan’s power
and authority. He writes, “Each year, the more than 80,000 government
entities in the United States spend vastly more money, take in vastly
more tax dollars, and promulgate thousands of new regulations.” He
reasons that “so far, at least in the United States, the pressures
eventuating in the growth of government have manifestly overwhelmed all
In a representative democracy, the growth of government power and
control tends to be irreversible. In their book, “The Tyranny of the
Status Quo,” Milton and Rose Friedman made the case that once a large
government program is launched, it is almost impossible to get rid of
it, no matter how badly it works, what damage it does, or what the
people think about it. Leviathan marches ahead towards totalitarianism
on a one-way street, growing stronger with every step.
It is clear that voters and potential voters are not clamoring for
relief from big government. Millions of uninvolved, dumbed-down
Americans do not have a clue or a care about what is happening in their
society and to their country. Other millions have a vested stake in big
government as a source of security, handouts, employment, preferential
treatment and business advantages; they are not fighting big government
or running from it, but feeding off of it, while pretending not to know
that it is at the expense of others. And the millions of Americans who
have withdrawn into apathy and cynicism are not executing “exit”
strategies; they are not escaping government, but submitting to it,
having become convinced that resistance is futile.
To the disappointment and dismay of many observers, accountability
turns out to be a huge and corrosive problem in a representative
democracy. When things go wrong in a dictatorship, no one has any
trouble knowing who to blame. By contrast, in the American government,
power is so diffuse and the bureaucracy so extended that it is often
impossible to pin down just who is responsible. Political corruption,
bureaucratic malfeasance and flagrant violations of the Constitution are
routinely exposed but almost never punished. The buck doesn’t stop
anywhere, just goes in circles, and never lands.
It was the original plan of the founders that the people “own” the
government, but it hasn’t worked out that way. The people of America are
not owners of government; they are the subjects of it. Those who were to
serve the people now rule them.
At the turn of the century, Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes
inadvertently prophesied the death of constitutional government when he
proclaimed, “The Constitution is what the judges say it is.” So it is.
The Constitution has been rendered irrelevant by declaring that it has
no intrinsic reality of its own, that it can mean anything any five
judges sitting on the Supreme Court at any given time want it to mean.
That once-revered, tattered old document no longer protects the people
from over-arching government; it has become an instrument for government
Who among those asking to become president has the vision and the
courage to rescue America from Leviathan?